Myth No. 1 of music licensing: Just because you are not making money on a project, does not mean you can use music for free.
Austin lawyer Amy E. Mitchell, of Amy E. Mitchell PLLC, and Roanna Gillespie, a music supervisor at WOW Sounds, educated the South By Southwest audience during a panel titled “Music Licensing Tips and Tricks for Film/TV.”
While Mitchell laid out the basic legal framework for music licensing, much of the discussion was a cautionary tale as they debunked several licensing myths and outlined hurdles to using music in TV or film projects.
Mitchell and Gillespie described a tedious process that combines hard-nosed music research and lawyering. For example, songwriters and producers hold rights to lyrics and song composition that are separate from the rights held by an artist who recorded or performed a song. As a result, licensing rights may be shared by several people and they may be sold or change hands many times.
Once you know for certain all the people who need to grant you licensing approval to use a song in a project, it’s then when you can send quote letters requesting how much they may demand in exchange for using the piece, Mitchell told attendees.
Mitchell reminded the audience that you can’t force someone to grant you license to use certain music. Rights holders do not have to respond to your quote request or give a reason for denial. As a result, projects on a budget may want to consider hiring a band to create and/or perform songs, but it’s always best to have a lawyer involved to shepherd those contracts and the licensing of any cover songs.
Takeaways: Do your research, know your budget, and hire a lawyer.